Gathering Threads

My Saturday with the Forest City Smocking Guild

Posted by on Jun 02 2014

Although it’s true that smocking is more popular in the States, especially in the south, there are still plenty of ladies here in Canada who love the art of smocking too.   This past weekend, I spent some time with the members of the Forest City Smocking Guild, who are located in London, Ontario.

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For those of you who aren’t up on your Ontario geography, it’s in the south west of the province, about half way between Toronto and Detroit.  It’s an hour and a half from my home, which means it’s too far to go for monthly meetings, but when I heard the guild was celebrating their thirtieth anniversary this year by inviting Judith Marquis to teach a one day workshop, I knew I wanted to go.  (Q: How do you know it’s a bunch of Canadians smocking?  A: There’s a Tim Horton’s coffee cup in the middle of the table!)

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The class was called “Twisted Cables”.  What are twisted cables?  Well, Judith told us that a number of years ago, while she was working in a knitting store, she became intrigued by the cable knits and crossover stitches available to knitters.  She wanted to see if she could recreate a similar effect in smocking.   Here is the sampler I made following Judith’s instruction.  They really do look like knitted cables, don’t they?

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My sampler is a selection of different cable patterns.  Some have two ‘ropes’ (that’s Judith’s terminology), densely bunched, others are more open and feature three or four ‘ropes’.   Some of the ropes are shaded, other patterns have solid colours.  The variations that are possible are really limited only by the stitcher’s imagination.

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Some of the patterns are narrow, and would work beautifully on an armband.  Or they could be mirrored to create a whole design for a bishop or a partial yoke dress.

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As the day progressed, we continued to work on increasingly complex designs.   I think this one is my favourite.

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I would love to do a partial yoke dress with this design.  I think it looks like woven ribbons.  Isn’t the shading neat?  It’s a very simple thing to add but it immediately adds a sense of depth, simply by varying the same colour from dark to light.  Of course, my sampler colours aren’t gorgeous, but I chose them primarily for their contrast, so that I could easily follow each of the elements through the pattern, and when referring to the sampler for inspiration later, be able to identify the key components.

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It was a lovely day.  I’ve taken classes with Judith before and she’s delightful.  She walked us very patiently through our strands, our ropes and our cables and if there were the occasional blank looks, it was operator error, not instructor error! 🙂   Perhaps it has something to do with my not so organized workspace?? Maybe?  Possibly?  🙂

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Judith also treated us to a show and tell, featuring her always impeccable designs.

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Lunch was a potluck and let me tell you, those ladies cook as well as they smock.   By the end of the day we were all well on our way to mastering these twisted cables.

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I always enjoy spending time with smockers.  Nobody looks at you oddly when you mutter to your thread, “Come on…just lie down, you little…” or have trouble understanding you when you talk with a needle in your mouth.  I hope to join the guild members again at their next workshop, because I had so much fun meeting them all.   If you want to find out more about the Forest City Smocking Guild including membership and upcoming events, check them out on Facebook.


Flowers, Showers and Smocking

Posted by on May 28 2014

And now for something completely different!

Rainy Days smocked dress

I don’t want you to think that I only like or smock ‘fancy’ dresses like my recent wool and lace confection.  In fact, most of the children’s clothes I sew are destined for everyday wear – I make play shorts and sweat pants for the boys, sundresses and easy to wear outfits for my nieces.   I still care about fit and style but I don’t fuss about interior finishes and choose my construction methods for durability and speed.

Back view Rainy Days

Here’s an example of that:  a picture smocked dress for my niece, Ellie, that combines my friend Janet Gilbert’s adorable plate, Rainy Days, with a vintage Pattorama dress from the 1950s.  As is typical when sewing with a vintage pattern, I added 3/4″ to lower the waistline and 3 inches to the hem length.

Pattorama 8410

This is a dress for school and the park and playing outside.  It’s cotton and it’s designed to be wash and wear.  Everything was done on machine, from the hem to the piping.  The inside seams are overcast with zigzag and the neck is bound with bias tape.

Picture Smocked Bodice

I’ve had the pattern in my collection for a couple of years and when I saw Janet’s plate, I knew right away that they would work perfectly together.  I like the arched insert; it makes a nice change from straight as an arrow inserts.   I used my freezer paper technique to cut and secure the smocked insert before I applied the piping.   I think the dark blue sets it off really nicely.

Rainy Days picture smocking

The raindrop fabric is the last piece of the puzzle.  It’s Timeless Treasures Raindrop and I couldn’t have found a more perfect fabric.  It’s bright and modern and balances well against the very classic style of the dress.

Close up Rainy Days picture smocking

I made a few tweaks to Janet’s plate – I changed up the floss colours so they would match my fabric.  I also went with cast on flowers instead of lazy daisy.  I also added ‘grass’ .  It’s just irregular single feather stitch, using two strands of green floss on top of a row of cable, but it adds a nice movement, I think.  But otherwise, it’s her design and I’m so pleased with how it turned out.  She does such nice designs.

cast on flowers

On one of my sewing forums, there was a discussion recently about the ubiquitousness of people selling patterns riddled with poor drafting, especially collars.  People were sharing their frustrations and their horror stories.  I definitely agree.  The difference is night and day between a badly drafted collar and a good one.  Look at the fit and the smooth shape of this collar.  It meets front and back and lies so nicely around the neck.  This is how a collar is supposed to fit!

Close up collar

The back of the dress is closed with four dark blue buttons.  These are vintage buttons, from my collection.  They suit the dress to a tee and they match the dark blue contrast fabric exactly.  You’d think I’d planned it but it was just a happy coincidence.

vintage button

So there you have it, a play dress that combines modern fabrics and smocking with a vintage pattern.  I think it’s a success.  My marching orders were “lots of colour, with flowers”.  Hopefully this meets the bill!

Lace! Lace! Lace!

Posted by on May 26 2014

Now that I’ve got the attention of the heirloom fans, I want to show you some shots of the dress I’ve just finished for my SAGA Smocked Lace correspondence course.

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If you’re a regular reader, you might remember me showing you my samplers here and here.  The samplers were practice pieces that let me try out the idea of ‘smocked’ lace; this dress is the final project and will be sent to Nancy for evaluation and feedback.   These aren’t the greatest pictures – poor Stanley is far to small for this size 8 dress.  He’s swamped and barely fills it out.   But I know you’ll overlook that – my talents lie with my sewing machine, not my camera! 🙂

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I’d been planning on a very different dress – different colour (white), different fabric (cotton batiste) and a different pattern (Daisy Marie, from a 2006 issue of Sew Beautiful) – and yet, I somehow ended up with a dark teal, wool version of Gail Doane’s justifiably famous AS&E Eloise.  About the only thing that did stay consistent were the ecru lace and my smocking plate choice.  Despite the design u-turn, I love! love!  love! this dress.

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I’ve made Gail’s Eloise before and as always, Gail’s patterning and design sense are impeccable.  But I really wanted to amp this dress up and play with the idea of lace.  So not only did I make the shaped lace collar and cuffs, but I went to town and added a deep lace hem band and lace on the sash.

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So much lace, so much fun!  In all, there’s about 20 yards of lace in this dress.  I got it all from Luc at CottonLace; the wool was a piece I found ages ago at Lens Mills, because I loved the rich shade.

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The wool pleated beautifully – although some people find wool scary, I’ve always had good luck with it.  The trick, I’ve found, is to work slowly and steam the pleats as they sit on the needle.  If you do this, you’ll get even regular pleats and very few, if any, popped pleats.   It really does look like lace, doesn’t it?

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I love this bow.  I can’t tie a bow to save my life – they’re *always* cockeyed and sort of scrunchy – but this bow just works! It’s a full 6″ wide.  Of course, given the weight of the fabric, I couldn’t do a tube with the seam allowance enclosed, as I often do when I’m sewing with cotton.  It’d be utterly unruly.  So I went with very tiny turned seams to finish the edges and then added one more dollop of lace at the ends of the sashes with 45 degree bands of lace.   This was the only spot where I used did hand french sewing – I rolled the edges of the lace by hand, rather than machine.

lace and wool smocked dress

Here’s the side seam, where you can see the box pleat I used to control the fullness.

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Inside, most of the seams are enclosed.  The yoke is fully lined but clearly, the bulk of the wool precludes french seams – they’d be french saucissons (sausages!) and overcasting seemed out of keeping with the heirloom spirit of the dress.  So on skirt side seams and the sleeve seams, I used the leftovers of the silk organza that I used for the collar, and cut narrow strips, enclosing the raw edges with a Hong Kong finish.

Here is the hem – for some reason the entredeux looks much whiter than it really is and the lace looks much tauper in these images.   They do match, honest!  I had a hard time photographing this dress because of the contrast between the dark wool and the light lace – it was often over exposed or underexposed. But you can see the repeating bands of lace that I think serve to balance the collar.

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Obviously, this is a special occasion dress but I don’t think it’s over the top.  The wool has texture and substance and because I limited my colour palette, I find this dress very restful to look at.   It will be sent off to Nancy for evaluation and then on for a photo shoot.  It’s going to be featured in SAGA News, likely in the winter.

Now that this is done, I can turn my attention to getting all my ducks in a row for my Artisan evaluation.  I’ll let you know how it goes, of course!



Aunt Grace Quilt Completed

Posted by on May 09 2014

My first quilt finish of 2014!  This was one of the UFO quilts I finished over the Christmas break.  The quilt pattern is Aunt Grace’s Garden from Fons and Porter.  Their version had a wide, appliqued border but I didn’t want to make a double sized quilt, so I left off the border and went sashing free.

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Alison and I both wanted to play up its old time vibe, so all of the motifs are very traditional.  Batting is Warm and Natural White Cotton and the thread is 50wt white.  She marked a simple stencil in the centre of the HST blocks.

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In the alternating blocks, she did curving triangles and quatrefoils that really emphasize the optical illusion of circles and curves.

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Here’s a close up of the quatrefoil.  It’s cute and light, and really fits with the overall feel of this quilt.

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I was lucky with this backing.  It’s a small scale OOP vintage floral print that I got for a steal from the remainders bin at Lens Mill.  It was a tight fit.  There wasn’t much left over after trimming, but it suits the quilt top to a tee.

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The binding was also very successful.  It was stash, intended for a Easter themed dress that I never got around to making, and so I got the double satisfaction of destashing and finishing a UFO – a two for one! I cut it on the straight grain, rather than on the bias.  It’s a little trickier to match but I like the linear effect.   I also cut the binding 2″, not 2 1/4″, so that it finishes to a true 1/4″.  I didn’t want a wider 3/8″ or 1/2″ binding because it would have disrupted the pattern of the blocks along the outside.

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Let me tell you the funniest thing about this project.  One of my web-friends, Rettabug, is making the same quilt, but she’d only begun collecting 30s prints.  So I sent her all my leftover pieces! I had extra squares, HST, strips, the whole bit – I stuffed them all in a cereal box, wrapped ’em up in brown paper, and shipped ’em off to Ohio.  How’s that for destashing?!

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I can’t wait to see her version but in the meantime, I’m enjoying my pastel Aunt Grace very much.  It makes me happy every time I look at it.

SAGA 2014 Convention “Sewcation” in Orlando

Posted by on May 01 2014

Do you have May 1 circled on the calendar? If you love smocking, embroidery or heirloom clothing you definitely should have a big, red circle round the date because that’s when registration for the 2014 SAGA convention officially opens.


Come to Sunny Florida, get away from it all and take a Sewcation! Pattern drafting, adding special details, handbag construction, silk ribbon embroidery, smocking galore, fun contests, and soaking up the sun with your friends – what could be better than attending the annual Smocking Arts Guild of America convention in Orlando, Florida from Sept 17 to 21 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress?  SAGA’s annual convention is filled with creative classes in smocking, embroidery, fine machine sewing and related needle arts.  Look at all the classes offered in this year’s brochure! Pardon me, it’s hard to type for the drool 🙂

This year is shaping up to be one of the best, with a slate of Debut Classes being presented by talented teachers on topics that include pattern drafting, adding smocking to an adult garment, a stunning silk ribbon smocked purse, and a lady’s Madeira nightgown – there is something for everyone. Registration for all these never-before offered programs opens May 1st – you can register online or by phone.

But not only will there be wonderful instructors like Judith Adams and Jeannie Baumeister, SAGA will also be welcoming Kenneth King and Liesl Gibson as special guest teachers.

Classics with a Twist 2014

Classics with a Twist 2014

Kenneth King, renowned for his exquisite couture techniques, will be teaching a handbag construction class and presenting a lecture entitled, “Evolution of an Evening Wrap” at the opening reception. Come hear about Kenneth’s design process and see a creation go from design concept to finished product. Bringing her fresh and youthful style, Liesl Gibson, the creator of Oliver + S patterns, will be offering a free lecture, open to the public, entitled “Many Looks, One Pattern.” She will also be teaching a series of classes designed for the novice stitcher, entitled “Classics with a Twist.” The classes will cover basic pattern alterations, details that make a difference, as well as a wallet construction class.

This year’s slate of classes, speakers and events is one of the best convention line ups I’ve seen in years (they’re always good, but this one is *especially* good!)  The organizing committee has been working gangbusters on another great event and they’re especially hoping to encourage new smockers, new sewers and new attendees to come out this year.  They’ve even put together a tutorial to help you register.  I want to encourage everyone to go.  It’s not about being a perfect sewer or a perfect smocker.  Everyone’s got something new to learn and everyone is happy to have you there.

Not able to join the fun in Orlando?  You can still be a part of SAGA.  Go to to find a local chapter near you and make some new stitching friends, or connect online through the websmockers chapter and SAGA’s Facebook page. If you want to learn to smock, they have correspondence courses, a popular SAGA Stitches programs and through their chapters, a mentoring program. Members also receive our quarterly publication, SAGANews filled with interesting articles and projects. See you in Orlando!